Eye-popping paintwork, giant alloy wheels licked with

some serious rubber, distinctive aerodynamic side strakes, deep front and rear

aprons, and glaring yellow (to match the body) and black (to match the trim)

seats, make a very bold statement. This is colour-coding in extremis. Run-of-the-mill

A3s are a bit Plain Jane: the S3 is more Lennox Lewis. Looking the part is one

thing, but having the go to match the show is another. Being a member of the

motoring world's upper hierarchy, Audi cannot afford to soil its vorsprung

durch technik philosophy with a claimed high performance machine that fails

to deliver. So, we approached our test of the S3 with high expectations.

Step inside and settle into those garish seats and the promise of excitement.

They are pukka Recaros, trimmed in the kind of suede normally found in the cockpits

of fully fledged race cars. The padding is firm, the substantial thigh and torso

bolsters more so. Electrically adjustable for cushion height and tilt plus backrest

angle (cushion length can be extended manually), the seats eliminate one concern

when exploiting a car's performance, namely being securely positioned.

Combined with the rake and reach adjustable steering wheel, reasonable pedal

positioning, and a sensibly placed left-foot rest, they provide an excellent

driving environment.

Fire up, and the familiar Audi 1 781 cm3 20-valve motor emits an uncharacteristic

rumble through the pair of chrome-tipped exhausts. It is a step up from the


A3 1,8T, boasting a substantial power increase of 44 kW to a new peak of 154,

delivered just 100 revs further up the scale at 5 800. Torque is improved too,

by 60 N.m to 270, all of which is on tap from 2 100 to 5 000 r/min. Not quite

as brawny as the 165 kW/280 N.m unit in the TT coupé and roadster, it still

has enough on-paper muscle to suggest plenty of spirited behaviour.

And not only in a straight line. For some time now, Audi and stablemate VW

have been offering cars with generously sized wheels and tyres encapsulated

by bold wheelarches, which not only look good but help endow the vehicle with

more than ample grip. Throw in four-wheel drive, a technology that Audi has

had in its product line-up for the last 20 years, and there is added potential

for g-challenging progress, especially in something as compact as the S3.

Head for the open road, and there is immediate notice of what is concealed

beneath the car's skin. The six-speed gearbox has a notchy, mechanical

action - the spring loading is not too heavy - and the clutch is comfortably

weighted, but the four-pot motor offers little in the way of inertia-beating

torque low down. Traction is so good that getting off the mark needs considered

throttle/clutch activation if the occasional stumble is to be avoided, but attempting

to pull away from yield signs at low speed in second gear is a no-no. It is

only when the tacho needle glides past 2 500 that you will find the expected


Thing is, the S3 is deceptively quick. The build integrity of the body, the

quality of the fixtures and fittings, and the apparent excellent NVH control

combine to subdue any mechanical mayhem - even the turbo adds to the noise

damping process, but not to the point that the engine cannot be heard being

worked hard. In this guise, the motor does not sing sweetly, and begins losing

penetration when revs approach 6 000, but keep it on its expansive torque plateau

and it delivers a linear progression of thrust. The gearbox, with its unusual

twin output shaft configuration (see sidebar), carries ratios that provide fairly

evenly spaced speed ranges. It is a joy to use.

Out on the test strip, our car did not quite make the times we were expecting.

Audi claims 6,9 seconds for the sprint to 100 km/h, but the best we managed

was 7,4 - which is still rapid for a car with a test weight of nearly 1,5

tons plus two crew members. (We compared figures with the slightly more powerful,

but heavier, TT Roadster tested in December 2000, and found that third gear

acceleration times were also down, suggesting that the S3 was somehow being

stifled until it was up and running.) The standing kilometre was achieved in

27,81 seconds at 187,2 km/h (anything under 28 seconds is commendable) and top

speed was 236 km/h. Numbers do not always tell the whole story, though, and

our enthusiasm was not dampened. Kept between that 2 100-5 000 max torque spread,

the S3 is quick. Period.

Tackle a series of bends and you will be forgiven for initially under-achieving.

Drive to the four wheels is courtesy of what is basically VW's 4Motion

system that, in turn, was adapted from Audi's quattro format. Essentially,

4Motion is to transverse-engined cars what quattro is to those with in-line

powertrains. Most of the drive

is sent to the front wheels in normal conditions, where EDL (Electronic Diff

Lock) takes care of any wheelspin at speeds up to about 40 km/h. When greater

demands are placed on the drivetrain, an electronically controlled Haldex coupling

on the rear differential apportions torque to the wheels that need it the most

to achieve balanced traction. All this forms part of the car's Electronic

Stability Program (ESP), which can be switched out if the driver wishes to challenge

the laws of physics. Not something we recommend...

But back to the twisties. Simply put, the grip offered by the 225/45 Z-rated

17-inch rubberware is not far short of phenomenal. Go in deep, turn in with

commitment and the nose of the S3 simply charges through without any loss of

composure. Hard-charge through tight corners and the rear can be felt getting

a little out of sorts, but not to the extent of raising a white flag. In such

circumstances, consider the speed of the manoeuvre and the S3's remarkable

handling becomes very apparent. It seduces, teases then deals with everything

that you can demand of it. We can think only of a Subaru Impreza WRX as a serious


A price has to be paid for such handling precision: hard-riding suspension,

especially at low speeds. Pottering around, any serious imperfections in the

road surface reveal themselves with a sharp thwack through the suspension. A

rash of corrugations has a similar effect to a weight loss vibrator. Conversation

becomes staccato. At cruising speeds, the effect is less pronounced, but sharp

ridges and ruts struck by the low-profile tyres simultaneously transmit a nasty

short shockwave. However, while the condition of the country's roads

is hardly exemplary, there is plenty of smooth tar to appreciate, and in an

overall context the S3's firmness is an acceptable trade-off.

Ventilated disc brakes all round with ABS and EBD control are powerful. Dual

front and side airbags are fitted, and the front head restraints are height

and tilt adjustable.

At night, instrument backlighting is a model of clarity. The white-lit rev-counter

needle to-ing and fro-ing over the red characters is like watching a swishing

sword from a Star Wars battle... Fun, and functional.

Dial-a-temp air-con with an auto mode is standard, and the Audi Concert RDS

radio/cassette player has a six-CD shuttle in the boot. Door windows are power

operated and can be opened and closed by holding down the appropriate remote

central locking button when approaching or leaving the car. Rear side windows

hinge open for extra ventilation. Exterior mirrors are electrically adjusted.

Audi's familiar five-function trip computer is part of the spec, too.

Original article from Car